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Thursday, 25 June 1914


Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - Senator Millen, when addressing the Senate, enumerated all the public works which the Government have on their programme. But his effort is only a piece of window-dressing in preparation for the general elections.. To listen to the' honorabe senator, one would never have thought that he is a member of a Government who, although they have been twelve months and more in office, have not only failed to submit a programme of public works of their own, but have stopped almost every public work started by their predecessors. I am safe in saying that no previous Government of the Commonwealth were responsible to a greater extent for the suspension of important public works. I can safely say, also, that no Government in Australia has ever in the same time been responsible for creating so many "unemployed in the Australian labour market. We have only tto consider the state of affairs in Western Australia to recognise the truth of my -statement. The present Fusion Government were responsible for the cancellation of the sleeper contract entered into between the Government of Western Australia and the last Federal Government. "That contract was proposed by the State Government of Western Australia with the object of developing a province of that State which has remained in its original condition since the white race came to Australia. No province on this continent has been more neglected than that particular part of Australia, though it possesses perhaps the most admirable climate in the Commonwealth-


Senator Pearce - And some of the richest land.


Senator DE LARGIE - And, as Senator Pearce says, some of the richest land. It is a well-known fact that the gigantic karri timber will grow only upon soil of a very superior kind. In order to open up that province at a time when the unemployed difficulty had reached a rather acute stage in Western Australia, the State Government undertook, as a means of finding remunerative work for the unemployed, the erection of timber mills in that part of the country. It was hoped that, while producing an extremely valuable article in the shape of sleepers for the transcontinental railway, the operations of those mills would be the means of opening up one of the richest districts in Australia, and of making way for settlement. By cancelling the sleeper contract the present Government are reponsible for upsetting the good intentions of the State Government, who spent £200,000 to build railways and instal machinery for this industry. They are responsible, also, for hanging up the construction of the western section of the transcontinental railway and for delaying the completion of that line. We have only to listen to speeches such as that delivered by Senator Millen to recognise their utter hollowness, and that they are merely political trimming before an election. What has been the attitude of the Government so far as the Naval Base at Cockburn Sound is concerned ? Our political opponents in Western Australia clamoured for the starting of the work there. The late member for Fremantle, Mr. Hedges, more than once accused the late Minister of Defence of .going out of his way to delay the starting of works at Cockburn Sound, with the object of keeping men out of the electorate at election time. We are now told by Senator Millen that Senator Pearce, as Minister of Defence, began that work before he should have done so, and began it for electioneering purposes. Who are we to believe, Mr. Hedges or Senator Millen ? But whether the work was begun too soon or too late, the present Government have been responsible for its suspension from the time they took office up to the present time. Again, we can consider the position at Cockatoo Island - a place which was a perfect hive of industry for as long as I can remember it. What is the position of affairs since the present Government took office? The place is now as silent as if a hammer never rang on a boiler there. The new General Post Office in Perth is another of the public works provided for by the Labour Government, but blocked by the Fusion Government. The history of this Fusion Government has been the suspension of public works wherever it has been possible to suspend them. In the face of these facts, Senator Millen lias had the audacity to outline what will be, if it ever materializes, the greatest public works policy that Australia has ever seen. Surely the honorable senator does not expect us to take him seriously ? Surely he does not think that the electors will swallow such ridiculous promises made just before an election ? I should like now to refer to a matter which has been more in the public mind of late than any other. I refer to the constitutional questions which havebeen discussed in this chamber during the last few weeks. The Fusion Government have failed entirely to introduce any useful legislation. Whilst they are leaving no record in that direction, they are undoubtedly "making history, so far as upsetting the Constitution is concerned, in a manner which noprevious Government ever attempted. During the last twelve months we have- had several violations of the Constitution by the present Government. It was not that they was any occasion for bringing about that state of affairs; it waa not that the legislation introduced had any need to raise any great constitutional issues. It was a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to get out of a difficulty in which they have been from the beginning of their existence, and that is the difficulty of being in office without a majority in each House. For the purpose of reducing the numbers against them in this Chamber, the Government have gone out of their way to raise the most important constitutional crisis which has ever been raised in the history of the Commonwealth. Party reasons, and only party reasons, are at the bottom of the position in which we find ourselves to-day. The Government are prepared to destroy the all-powerful position which the Senate has occupied since the beginning of Federation. They are ready to rob the Senate for all time of its rights under the Constitution for the sake of gaining a mere party advantage for the time being. The Constitution gives to the Senate, and rightly gives to it, enormous powers. It is not created in the ordinary way in which an Upper House is elected. The Upper House of a State in Australia, or the Upper House in the Old Country, is brought into existence by some privileged means of election, by some means other than by the adult voters in the community. According to my reading of history, the Senate is the one Upper House in the whole world which is elected on an adult franchise, and, as the result of that broad franchise, it is at the same time the most democratic Upper House in the world. Australia is the only country in which, as far as I Enow, the Democratic or the Labour side has been able to capture the Upper House. Therein lies the reason for the present antagonism to the Senate by the reactionary party. It is not because there is any need, or any weakness in our Constitution, that the present crisis has been brought about. The one object in view is to destroy the only Upper House of a democratic nature in Australia. I am sorry to say that honorable gentlemen who have been members of the Senate from the start, and may now fairly be called its enemies, have lent themselves, for mere party purposes, to destroy its powers. When we re- member how the Democrats in the Federal Convention struggled to place the Senate on such a broad and democratic basis as to secure to it co-equal rights with the House of Representatives, with the one exception of introducing money Bills} when we recollect that the Democrats in the Convention, of the type of Mr. Kingston, Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Higgins, and, may I include in the gallant band, Mr. Deakin and Mr. Reid, fought to secure for the Senate a more broad and democratic Constitution than was enjoyed by any Upper House then in existence, we must be surprised to find men who claim to be entitled to use the glorious name of Liberal entering into a conspiracy to rob the Australian Upper House o.f its democratic character. I have only to refer to the debates in the Convention to prove what I have said. When the Constitution was first suggested, it was not intended that the Senate should be a democratic House. It was expected to be similar to the Upper Houses of other countries. It was thought that it would eventually become like the Senate of America, which is frequently called " the rich man's club." Nearly all the members of the Federal Convention predicted, and expected, that none but men of very great wealth would be able to win a seat in the Senate because of the enormous expense of contesting an election. That seemed to be the prevailing idea, and the Democrats in that body laboured in order to make the Senate as democratic as possible by placing it practically on the same basis as the House of Representatives, inasmuch, as in the case of a proposed law for an alteration of the Constitution, the Senate would have as much power as the other House, and provided that the proposed law passed through the Senate, it would be referred to the people, so that they might give their judgment. In the light of these facts, we can understand the difference between the meaning of the word " Liberal " in bygone years and. the meaning of the word as it is used in Australia to-day. The power to amend the Constitution is perhaps the greatest power of all to be found in that instrument. According to a well-known constitutional writer and authority, Professor Burgess, if a Parliament has the power to bring its Constitution into harmony with the will of the people, that country can never go very far wrong. Our Constitution was framed in such a way that from time to time, just as the popular wish might desire, it would be possible for the Senate to pass a law to bring the Constitution into line with the will of the people. Therefore, a power to amend the Constitution may be rightly said to be one of the greatest powers it contains. In Political Science and Constitutional Law, Burgess says, at page 137 -

This is the most important part of a Constitution, upon its existence and truthfulness, i.e., its correspondence with real and natural conditions depends the question as to whether the State shall develop with peaceful continuity, or shall suffer alterations of stagnation, retrogression, and revolution. A Constitution which may be imperfect and erroneous in its other parts, can easily be supplemented and corrected if only the State be truthfully organized in the Constitution ; but if this be not accomplished, error will accumulate until nothing short of revolution can save the life of the State.

We all believed that the Constitution gave the Senate the right to pass a proposed law, and have it submitted to the people for approval or rejection ; but we have found, within the last few days, that, notwithstanding the clear and definite statement in section 128, that if either House of the Parliament passes a proposed law it shall go automatically to the people, the present Government has advised the Governor-General that he may not submit six proposed laws passed by this Chamber. That means that the Government of the day can practically force the Governor-General to take an unconstitutional step. I do not think that a democratic people, as the Australians undoubtedly are, will permit a crime of this sort to be committed without the punishment which it is in its power to mete out to those who are guilty. As I am speaking, not to the few honorable senators who are present, but to thousands of electors outside - to the people in the far-off States, who should be made to understand the real effect of what has been done by the Government - I shall read the opinions of some of the framers of the Constitution on this point. It was proposed in the Convention that proposals for the alteration of the Constitution, if passed by a majority in each House, should be submitted to the people ; but Mr. Justice Isaacs, who at the time was Attorney-General for Victoria, moved an amendment providing for the submission of a proposed law after it had been passed by either Chamber. So that one House could not defeat the other House if it wanted to amend the Constitution, the proposed law was to go to the voters of the Commonwealth. He said - page 717 of the reports of the Melbourne sittings -

All I desire to say in support of the Victorian Assembly's suggestion is this, that, if either House - I do not care which - bringsforward a proposal and the other House does not agree with it, then there shall be an opportunity, if the House originating the proposal desires to refer the proposal to the people, as a people; and the States, as States. This protects the States, and it protects the people.

Having taken as his motto the words, " Trust the people," he said, further -

I only ask for some ultimate means of preventing catastrophe.I only ask those honorable members who say " Trust the Federal Parliament " to go further and meet the inevitable by trusting the people who are behind the Federal Parliament. Let us trust the people whose interests are all in all to us, who have to pay the taxes, whose life, whose liberty, and whose property are at stake, and not necessarily stand by the rigid system of electing men for general purposes, and of allowing those men to say finally whether the people shall ever have a voice in the matter or not. I would point out that a question affecting the Constitution is different from all other questions. It may be right - I do not think it is - to say that on ordinary matters of legislation Parliament should have its own way. On matters of Constitution it is surely right to let the people have an opportunity of expressing their opinions one way or the other.

Mr. JusticeIsaacs thought that Parliament should have its way on questions of legislation, but that on constitutional questions, which are much more important, it should be the duty of the people to give an opinion, and that either House should not be allowed to prevent the people from giving an opinion. The Senate has, on two occasions, passed six Bills for proposed alterations of the Constitution, which have already been submitted to the people on two occasions. Under section 128, and in accordance with the views of the framers of the Constitution, these Bills should be again submitted to the people; their submission should not be blocked by the Fusion Government advising the Governor-General not to submit them. This advice robs the Senate of its powers, and prevents the people from expressing an opinion. Not only is the Senate " gagged " for the time being, but the people are also " gagged." They are not permitted to say " Yes " or " No " to these important proposals.


Senator Pearce - The motto of the Liberals is " Mistrust the people."


Senator McColl - We have shown that it is not, by going to the country.


Senator DE LARGIE - What is to be gained by that appeal to the people, except the opinion of the public regarding the violation of the Constitution? Parliament will find itself in the same eni de mc after the election as it is in now, and has been in since the beginning of Federation. But had these great constitutional questions been submitted to the people, and had Parliament been given the powers for which we ask, it could then do something. As it is, public money is being spent uselessly. This grand double dissolution which the Fusion Government have brought about will give no return for the money spent on the elections. It is really a penal dissolution, punishing the Senate because it would not back down on the well-known principles of a majority of its members, namely, preference or protection to trade unionists. The Government, to destroy that majority, have determined to destroy the powers of the Senate. Truly we are making history. Before passing from this aspect of the question, I would like to give the Senate a few more quotations.


Senator Senior - - The honorable senator suggests the idea of the Chinaman who, when he wanted roast pig, burnt down the house in which the pig lived.


Senator DE LARGIE - This is burning down the house to roast the pig with a vengeance, and I hope that the pig gets thoroughly roasted on this occasion for having set fire to its' own house. As I cannot expect that my opinion will carry as much weight with the gentlemen who compose the present Government, as the words' of such individuals as Mr. Deakin and Sir George Reid, I propose to quote now from the opinions of those two gentlemen, in order to fortify the remarks I have already made. Speaking, on page 731 of the Federal Convention Debates, in Melbourne, Mr. Deakin said -

I would rather see several means of setting in motion the regular and constitutional process by which proposals for the amendment r.f the Constitution might be considered by the people, either at the desire of majorities rf this Commonwealth Parliament or of either Federal House, or of a majority of the States Parliaments. It appears to me that the extension of the power which my honorable and learned friend proposes is very desirable and equitable.

That would be giving the Senate equal! power with the House of Representatives -

If we lay to heart the experience of America we shall find that men of all parties unite in agreeing that a cardinal defect of the AmericanConstitution is the difficulty of having any amendment submitted to the electors of theRepublic.

In giving expression to that opinion Mr. Deakin was repeating what we know tobe a well-established fact. The greateststigma on the Constitution of the UnitedStates is the fact that it cannot be alteredto meet the demands of public opinion.. When that Constitution was originallyframed, perhaps as a document it expressed some of the finest sentiments and: grandest principles of government of thattime, but owing to the decisions of theSupreme Court and to that Conservativeelement in America which has dominatedthat Republic for so long, the American Constitution has not kept step with thewill of the majority, and it has cometo be recognised that it is almost, impossible to effect the slightest amendment of it. It was in order to provideagainst that state of affairs that theframers of our Constitution gave so much power into the hands of the people of Australia by means of the referendum, and as a first step they made both Housesequal, so that if one House passed a Bill for a proposed amendment the otherHouse could not possibly block it. Whenthe framers of the Constitution werebuilding, they thought they foresaw thepossibility of a Conservative or reactionary Senate, and it was in orderthat the Senate would not block legislation for the amendment of the Constitution that this power was put into theConstitution. But to-day, in spite of the fact that we have a democratic Senate, the very situation which theConstitution framers sought to avoid has been brought about by the political trickery of the present Government, who have forced the Governor-General totake an action which, I am sure, that gentleman in his heart disapproves of. I now propose to quote Sir George Reid's opinion. And remembering that that gentleman was one of the founders, not only of the Constitution, but also of the Fusion, and knowing that he is the Fusion's great authority on manythings, it would be well to let the public- know what he thinks in regard to these matters. Sir George Reid said -

The object is to relieve the Senate from a comparatively helpless state in reference to ?n amendment of the Constitution, and to place it, as representing the States, in the position of being able to appeal to the States on a question of an amendment of the Constitution. The view I take is that, instead of degrading the Senate, it puts it in a position of absolute equality with the House of Representatives in a mutter which lias hitherto loosely been supposed to belong more to the House of Representatives than to the Senate.

Then he goes on to say -

If the proposals are serious ones, why should -not the Senate have the absolute right by an absolute majority of asking the opinion r.f the people upon a proposed amendment of the Constitution 7 Surely the States, as represented by the Senate, have a right to take such a verdict with regard to the proposed change.

Honorable senators will see that Sir George Reid saw at that time - I think he was alone in that respect - the possibility of the Senate being a democratic House, and he thought that if it was a democratic House it would wish to exercise its will in regard to proposed alterations of the Constitution.


Senator McColl - Sir Henry Parkes saw that long before Sir George Reid.


Senator DE LARGIE - Sir HenryParkes was not a member of the Convention.


Senator Senior - The thought in Sir George Reid's mind was that some problem affecting the States might crop up, and that the .representation in the Senate, being States representation, this Chamber might come into conflict with the House of Representatives.


Senator DE LARGIE - No doubt Sir George Reid took that view, and as this is the States House, it was a very proper view to take. Let us suppose, for instance, that the financial advantage given to Western Australia, whereby for ten years that State received slightly more from the Consolidated Revenue than any other State, were to be wiped out by the House of Representatives, owing to a combination of the representatives of the big States of Victoria and New South Wales; or that similar action were taken in regard to the Murray waters question, which so closely affects the State of South Australia, and that the States House were powerless to protect - the interests of the State affected, then the Senate as a States House would be rendered completely useless. That is the position we find ourselves in to-day. Three or four years ago the Fusion party were howling throughout the Commonwealth about the Labour party trying to bring about unification and robbing the States of their rights. Yet they to-day, at one fell swoop, are robbing the Senate of the right to protect the interests of the States. I hope the people will recognise this fact at the forthcoming elections. If they do, we may look for fewer Liberal representatives in the Senate in future. I should now like to quote the opinion of Mr. Justice Higgins, a gentleman who has ever been regarded as one of the foremost Democrats of Australia. We must all admire the manner in which he presides over the Arbitration Court, which, in my opinion, is a tribunal more difficult to conduct than any other in the country. As time goes on, the law will more and more, I think, be called upon to decide . industrial matters, and eventually the greatest Court in the land will be the Court of industrial arbitration. Mr. J Justice Higgins performs his onerous duties with eminent success, and in the utterances I am about to quote he recognises that the Senate ought to have the power to which I have been referring. When dealing with the matter, he said that if one House were permitted to block the will of the other, we should have that stagnation which we found in every Conservative Upper House in the world; and that, therefore, there ought to be a reference to the people. During the Federal Convention at Melbourne, he said-"

But as I understand it now, it is, in. .brief, this :- That supposing the Senate or the House of Representatives should wish to have an amendment of the Constitution, and the other House does not agree to it, then there shall be a referendum to both States and people, as to whether the amendment shall be law or not.

Mr. Isaacs;That is it.

Mr. HIGGINS.; If that is the proposal, I shall vote for it. I think the Premier of New South Wales is quite right when he says that it is not a Radical matter at all. It is not a question of Liberal politics or Conservative politics, but simply a question of common sense, and it is a device that may be used either by the Senate or by the other House. If the Senate should wish to have an alteration of the Constitution, and possibly it will, I do not see why, assuming that there have been due safeguards taken, it should not have the matter referred to the States and to the people as here proposed.

I think I have quoted sufficient to show that the attitude taken by the Labour party in reference to the memoranda presented to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral a few days ago - the answer to which we heard yesterday - is supported by what took place at the Convention. I am satisfied that the people outside, when they' get the opportunity, will wreak their political vengeance on those who would rob the Senate of its well-established right, and make it practically useless for the purpose of legislation; otherwise, I see but very little prospect for the Senate in the future. We shall simply be asked to say " ditto " to any legislation passed by another place, no matter how ridiculous or unnecessary that legislation may be; and if we refuse, this Chamber may be dissolved at any moment at the whim of the Government of the day. I have no doubt that the people will insist on giving either House the right to bring about any alterations in the Constitution that may, from time to time, be deemed necessary. The people, I hope, will be able to fully appreciate the position. Even our political opponents cannot say that we have shirked responsibility for our actions. We have not attempted, to unduly protract debate, but have, as far as possible, expedited business, in order to have an appeal to the country. Had we chosen, we could have availed ourselves of many means under the Standing Orders, when the Government Preference Prohibition Bill was sent to us, to block public business for months; but we showed our utter contempt for that measure by, to use a phrase that has become somewhat celebrated, " booting it out " at its first appearance.


Senator Senior - That Bill was unimportant; whereas the measures affirmed by the Senate and sent on to the other House are most important to Australia.


Senator DE LARGIE - That Bill has been so trenchantly dealt with that it is unnecessary to refer to it again. If we are not the natural guardians of the Senate, I do not know whom we oan expect to stand up for its rights. We made our protest through the proper channel, namely, the Governor-General, whom we thought to be something more than a mere "rubber stamp"; but his reply was simply that he had "consulted his advisers." If we turn to figures, however, we see that the Gover nor-General's " advisers " consist of practically one member of the House of Representatives ; so that it would appear that the majority of twenty-two in the Senate counts for nothing, as against that one. And this is what responsible government has come to in the Commonwealth! A tangle of the kind can only be unravelled by the electors of Australia; and I look forward to the present Government being shot out of their position, just as they were four years ago, when, after the secret conference, they thought they had such a strong combination that Labour was " down and out " for years. That the Fusion Government went down in 1910 was a fortunate thing for Australia.


Senator Keating - That Government went down for the same reasons that the Labour Government went down three years afterwards.


Senator DE LARGIE - The Labour Government did not go down three years afterwards, but, as a matter of fact, cameback with an increased number of supporters in the country. It is true that the numbers were not sufficient to give them power in the House, of Representatives; but the party, so far from "going down," have increased their numbers at every election from the beginning, as I have no doubt they will increase them at the next elections.







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